God has given every Christian one or more spiritual gifts. There are four chapters in the New Testament that mention the spiritual gifts: 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, Ephesians 4, & 1 Peter 4. They include things like: wisdom, knowledge, leading, exhorting (encouraging), teaching, giving, helping, administering, evangelism, shepherding, prophecy, tongues, faith, and mercy, to name a bunch. Let me mention a few things about what the spiritual gifts are, and then next week I will talk about what they aren’t!
1. They are grace gifts. 1 Corinthians 12:4 says, “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.” The word ‘gifts’ here translates a word from the original language that contains the root ‘charis’ which means ‘grace.’ Grace means God’s undeserved favor. That reminds us that the spiritual gifts aren’t a reward for hard work and faithful service. They are totally unmerited.
2. They are birthday gifts. They aren’t for the elite few. They are for every believer who has put their faith in Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:4 says, “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.” They are like your spiritual birthday gift. The moment you repent of your sin and trust in Christ for salvation, you get born-again. That’s your spiritual birthday. And on that day, the Holy Spirit comes into your life. That might have happened to you as an adult, as a teenager, or as a child (as it did for me). Yet, no matter the moment, when the Holy Spirit enters your life, you receive one or more spiritual gifts.
3. They are sovereign gifts. 1 Corinthians 12:11 says, “All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.” God gives one or more spiritual gifts to each Christian just as he determines. We don’t decide what gift we will have any more than we decide the color of our skin, or the height we will be. It is God who sovereignly determines it. Many believers have been taught that you can ask God for various gifts. That’s based on verse 31 a little later on in the same chapter which says, “Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.” This is one of those verses where the translation is actually not ideal in the NIV. In fact, the NIV study Bible has a note next to the verse specifying that an alternate (better?) translation of this verse is, “But you are eagerly desiring the greater gifts.” The reason for this is because the apostle Paul uses a greek word ‘zaleo’, which means “to covet,” and it is usually used in a negative context in the Bible of things we aren’t supposed to desire. So, when you look at it in this way, what Paul is saying, I think, is that there was something wrong in the Corinthian church. Some of them were coveting other people’s spiritual gifts and Paul says, “You are not to covet other people’s gifts! You are to be thankful for what you have.” This now fits better with verse 11 which says that God distributes the spiritual gifts to each Christian, just as he determines.
Now, the one tricky thing about the spiritual gifts is that there are no definitions given for them, and so we are left to carefully see how they are used in the New Testament as a means of defining them. However, let me share some definitions that I find helpful from churchgrowth.org. Zeroing in on just nine of the spiritual gifts, here are some possible definitions:
- Evangelism: passionately leading others to the saving knowledge of Christ (Eph.4:11).
- Prophecy: boldly and fearlessly proclaiming God’s truth (Rom.12:6, Eph.4:11, 1 Cor.12:10,28).
- Teaching: making clear the truth of God’s Word with simplicity & accuracy (Rom.12:7, 1 Cor.12:28)
- Exhortation: motivating others to action, application and purpose (Rom.12:8).
- Shepherding: overseeing, training, feeding, coaching/leading (Eph.4:11).
- Mercy-showing: identifying with and comforting those in need (Rom.12:8).
- Serving: providing practical help both physically and spiritually (Rom.12:7, 1 Cor.12:28).
- Giving: releasing material resources to further the work of the Church (Rom.12:8).
- Administration: organizing, administering, promoting, leading (Rom.12:8, 1 Cor.12:28).
A Free Spiritual Gifts survey
Here is the link to a free spiritual gifts survey that focuses on the above spiritual gifts.
It’s a good place to start if you have never done anything like it.
What is the purpose of the spiritual gifts?
Christ isn’t physically present here today, but we are the body of Christ and as we use the gifts God has given us, we act as his hands and his feet on earth to do his work. 1 Corinthians 12:5–6 says, “There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.“
As we use our spiritual gifts, God’s work on earth is carried out. As we use our gift/gifts, God works in us and through us to accomplish his work on earth, or as it says in Ephesians 4:12 “so that the body of Christ may be built up.”
As we use our spiritual gifts, the body of Christ is built up.